Politics, religion, and race seem to be today’s topics that most create divisions among people. Why? I think it’s because each of these broad areas is deeply rooted in core ethical values. And of course at certain points on the continuum these three areas are intertwined.
When it comes to religion, it’s been easy for me to reject those friends and acquaintances who promote a religion of hatred and fear. Their morals are so clearly wrong I have no problem saying “adios, it was never really all that nice knowing you anyway.” Same when it comes to race. When a friend makes his or her hatred of an entire people – or judges an individual based on color alone – that will be the last real interaction I have with them. In both cases, the decision is easy, because these are issues that for such people no amount of conversation or behavior modelling will have the least effect. And I choose not to be associated with such people. “You are the company you keep,” as the adage goes.
Only in the last couple of years have I come to the same conclusion about politics. And my standards are the same: do someone’s politics violate my standards of morals and decency in behavior toward others. There are conservatives who do not violate these standards, people you can discuss issues with and walk away saying “If it were left to you and me, we could work out our differences and run this country.” But if you can’t even have a civil and rational discussion, frankly these people have no respect for you and do not deserve your respect or friendship. I don’t know what leads certain people to lose their minds to irrational demagoguery and extremism. But I do know we must stand strong and confront it in a variety of ways: by how we conduct our personal interactions, by how we combat institutionalized unethical practices, by how we vote, and by who we associate with.
Does it increase division? Yes, but it’s a fundamental ethical not political division. And I have enough faith still that those espousing rightwing extremism will ultimately fade or be relegated to a minority with little influence. Until then though, we need to be strong in the face of what we know is wrong. I know this is not easy when it comes to lifelong friends. The only alternative in my opinion is an iron clad agreement to not discuss substantive topics, which makes the relationship pretty shallow and is usually impossible for extremists anyway.